How Stranger Things Cinematographer Got into the Biggest TV Show

Stranger Things cameraman Caleb Heymann never intended to conquer the world of television blockbusters. The director spent most of his 20 years in South Africa, where he attended film school and then built a humble career shooting commercials and short films. But after receiving a special jury prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Heymann …

How Stranger Things Cinematographer Got into the Biggest TV Show

Stranger Things cameraman Caleb Heymann never intended to conquer the world of television blockbusters.

The director spent most of his 20 years in South Africa, where he attended film school and then built a humble career shooting commercials and short films. But after receiving a special jury prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Heymann signed with an agency from Los Angeles and returned to the United States.

“The first year and a half in Los Angeles was hard for me,” Heymann tells CNBC Make It. “I was 34 at the time and felt like I was starting over.”

He describes a period of time when he took on film work wherever he could, but always tried to collaborate with other artists whose skill he admired.

“You don’t really control [how much success you have]but you control who you work with,” he says. “Make sure you always work with people you respect and projects that speak to you on some personal level.”

His foray into the Upside Down and the world of Stranger Things happened almost entirely by accident, and Heymann says his big break “wasn’t a strategic move.”

At first, I felt this huge impostor syndrome because I had never been in such a big state with hundreds of people working on production.

Caleb Heymann

Director of Photography Season 4 of Stranger Things

Hit Netflix was looking to direct part two for its third season, and creators Matt and Ross Duffer saw a short film that Heymann was working on, which the show’s writer was working on. The Duffer brothers contacted Heymann, who described the phone call as “life-changing”.

“When I got the call and was invited to star in the second part of the third season, I was incredibly excited,” he says. “But I also felt this huge impostor syndrome at first because I’ve never been in such a big state with hundreds of people working on a production.”

Heymann, who began his film career by filming documentaries, quickly plunged into the abyss of large-scale productions. Although he worked as a director of photography, he did not control any of the cameras himself.

“[The job became] much more about how you coordinate the vision while working with the director and this huge army [of crew] it’s at your disposal,” he says.

However, Heymann so impressed the Duffers that he was invited back for the fourth season, where he directed seven of the season’s nine episodes. The popularity of this season, which Netflix announced this month, has had over 1 billion hours watched, which is something Heymann says “really blows my mind.”

The job has also opened more doors for him – he is about to embark on another project for a very popular media property.

“In a few weeks, I’m going to start a project for Marvel that I’m very excited about,” he says. “It’s all because of Stranger Things and because the Duffer brothers took the chance to take me on board.”

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